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Encroachment of bricks on rural huts

Shihab Sarkar | Friday, 12 July 2019


An acquaintance of this scribe was telling him the other day his growing disillusionment with villages. His case was not extraordinary; this disenchantment has also affected many like him. But the person could not reconcile himself with the radically changed look his once sylvan village wore. The look was different back then from the one encountered in the recent years. The pace of change is bafflingly fast. Romantically disposed and nostalgic people find it really difficult to see the construction spree in villages getting speedier, replacing age-old tin or sliced-bamboo made houses with brick-built buildings. But as per the dictates of time, buildings are now inevitable in villages. Rural people in the 21st century may not be willing to remain confined to traditional dwellings any more. Those affluent among them living not far away from towns and cities might rationally want to construct concrete buildings. Villagers, too, might want to keep pace with time through having the faint experiences of urban life. This trend becomes irresistible as the rural areas continue to be encroached on by towns. Many an urban influence keeps creeping into villages insidiously. The reverse aspect of the matter is mere externally changed looks do not bespeak the beginning of a new phase. Residential buildings and 'pucca' roads notwithstanding, pockets of obscurantism and ignorance continue to exert dominance.
In the developed countries, an outsider cannot tell a village from a city suburb. The villages have in place bungalow-type and low-height buildings, uninterrupted electricity supply and the similar services enjoyed by the city people. Their day-to-day life, pastime, festivities etc, in essence, are no different from that found in the urban areas. Villages in Bangladesh have long been under the bout of private development initiatives. Many of those embarking on the initiatives are educated and free of the baggage of deep-seated rusticity. Even then, pockets of darkness at times emerge from areas otherwise boasting of urban glows. It reminds the village-focused social experts of the transience and vulnerability of artificial lifestyle. A basic change should come from within. It cannot be imposed from outside in the manner of a fad. It is this affectation which has prompted the aforementioned acquaintance of this scribe to take exception to the trend of the urbanisation of villages.
The said village in the Laxmipur district was in the past an elegant one filled paddy fields, green pastures, densely grown woodlands -- and, of course, arrays of traditional mud-floor village homes. They were mostly made of bamboo walls, with roofs made of tin. Some had thatched roofs. The relatively affluent people used to live in fully tin-made houses. The members of the joint family of the person referred to lived in several tin houses forming a large compound, encircled by bamboo fencing. In rural areas, houses used to be built under different indigenous shapes 50/60 years back. Those included 'ek-chala', 'do-chala', 'chou-chala' etc. It was mainly the tin-made and thatched and bamboo walled 'do-chala' houses that would dominate a village. The 'chou-chala' houses, comprising four triangular and ornate roofs, used to be built by relatively well-off and fashionable people. In Sub-Saharan Africa, rural houses are mostly round-shaped. Instead of this design, the greater Bengal and Assam villages have for centuries felt at home with the rectangular houses with sloped roofs. Like many other villages, the said one in Laxmipur now has to be reached from Dhaka by long-haul buses. In the earlier days, people reaching the nearby small town from Dhaka would start for their villages from the bus terminal on foot along dirt roads or through narrow dust-laden or muddy walkways in midst of croplands. What is amazing, following a short phase of cycle-rickshaws, people of almost all villages in Laxmipur take enormous pride in its concrete roads filled with auto-rickshaws and small motor transports. Zaman, not the real name of the acquaintance of the scribe, hires an auto-rickshaw from the bus terminal. The three-wheeler after speeding through the concrete road for less than an hour drops him at the entrance of his ancestral village home.
Despite the local people being apparently elated over their radically developed village, critics are not willing to call the place a village at all. To most of them it is a haphazardly built township with ill-planned residential buildings, shopping centres and small factories lining both sides of the road. There is little space between the structures. With the passing of days, air pollution has started choking the vast area. Aesthetically disposed people have discovered a new type of pollution in the village. They call it sight pollution. The villages like that in Laxmipur are now found in almost every district.
The age-old view of Bangladesh villages has for sometime been undergoing radical changes. Some of them are prominent, some not easily perceptible and are, thus, subtle. Beginning from the patterns of houses, the materials, their locations within a compound, to the nearby roads -- almost all aspects of the rural houses have passed through changes few have imagined before. Brick-built structures have lately made a noticeable entry into the rural landscape. In the bygone days, moneyed villagers owned isolated concrete buildings. But their number was 2 or 3 in 10/15 villages. Nowadays, almost every village in the country boasts of a number of brick and half-brick houses. Those who cannot afford to construct a whole building build at least portions of their dwellings using bricks. A few of them build their boundary walls with bricks.
A startling view these days comprises the high-rise buildings coming up on river fronts and commercial centres adjacent to many villages. In different media photographs, these tall buildings look as if they are located in a developed or first developing country. Sarcastically, barely a mile from these 'urban structures' one will find long expanses of rural landscape punctuated by one or two-storey buildings.
The urban changeover of villages has considerably been expedited by power connections. Most of the villages in Bangladesh are supplied electricity by Rural Electrification Board (REB). In spite of the alleged irregular supplies, village people use the electricity to the highest possible extent to light their houses, house compounds and operate electrical appliances. A lot of people even run their refrigerators with this electricity. Where there is no REB electricity, people rely on the solar power to run smaller gadgets, apart from lighting their houses.
It has now emerged as a pleasant reality that the country's rural regions are fast being overrun by urban facilities. The areas include mostly the ones on the peripheries of the district and upazila towns and the adjacent business centres. Remittances play a great role in these transformations. Given the speed at which urban structures and lifestyle are encroaching on the once tranquil rural expanses, a different lifestyle is poised to outdo the one that has represented villages for centuries. This is no stunning revelation. International agencies have long been forecasting a narrowing space for villages in the present world compared to cities. In the near future, greater breadth of areas will be covered by the urban points than villages in most of the countries, they add. Mankind ought to be prepared to confront the mixed realities: previously unheard-of benefits of the new landscape and its negative face. The latter constitutes the deleterious urban influence, like that of consumerism, on the proverbially pure villages of the past. It's also true there are governments and peoples, especially in the remote parts of the world, who are not that impatient to join the bandwagon of progress or development.

shihabskr@ymail.com